There’s something special about March for Cody Freeman.
Playoff time brings out the best in the junior forward and Saturday it brought out his first career hat trick.
Freeman scored three goals to pace the Canisius Golden Griffins to a 5-0 win over Sacred Heart in front of 403 at the Buffalo State Ice Arena.
The Griffs swept the best-of-three series and now move into the best-of-three quarterfinal round where they will play an opponent still to be determined.
No. 12 Army faces No. 5 Robert Morris tonight in a series that will be the key to determining the quarterfinal bracket since Atlantic Hockey re-seeds after the first round.
Last year, Freeman was tied for the national lead for goals in March with eight.
He scored his goals Saturday in front of the net and off rebounds while one was a beautiful, momentum-changing shorthanded tally.
“March is my month I guess,” Freeman said. “Since I played junior hockey, there’s something about the playoffs that I think gets everyone going. Even going back to my freshman year, I only scored one playoff goal, but it was in the first game. Last year things obviously blew up. It’s just getting hot at the right time and I just hope it keeps going, like last year.”
Canisius took a 1-0 lead with 6:37 left in the first period when Ralph Cuddemi’s shot hit Sacred Heart goaltender Alex Vazzano high in the chest. The puck bounced over the back of Vazzano and into the net.
Nursing the one-goal lead, Canisius found itself on the penalty kill. That’s when Freeman created a turnover at center ice, kicked it up to himself, made a nice move and shot high past Vazzano.
The goal sparked the Griffs who carried the balance of play for the rest of the period.
Braeden Rigney added a goal at 11:33, jamming the puck in low, stick-side off a pass from Logan Roe.
Freeman scored twice in the third period to give Canisius a cushion. He netted one at 6:20 and another at 14:25 with Kyle Gibbons picking up assists on both goals
Sacred Heart had opportunities including pulling the goaltender to turn a 4-on-3 power play to a 5-on-3 chance midway through the third, but the Canisius defense was solid and Tony Capobianco made the saves he needed to.
Capobianco recorded his second straight shutout, making 31 saves. The senior goaltender set the program for career saves on Friday night. Three of his career record eight shutouts have come in the Atlantic Hockey Tournament.
“I’ve been seeing the puck pretty well,” Capobianco said. “I’ve been getting to my spots early, on passes just getting my position so I don’t have to go into scramble mode. And then there’s the guys in front of me. I think they had three huge blocked shots and it gives me more motivation to stop the puck.”
Niagara drops AIC
The Purple Eagles needed two overtimes to get on the board Friday night, but they didn’t waste any time Saturday in completing the first-round series sweep.
Niagara built a 3-0 lead in the first period and went on for a 4-2 win over American International College at Dwyer Arena. With the win, Niagara takes the first-round series over AIC and advances to the quarterfinal round.
Sam Alfieri scored 4:36 into the game to give Niagara the early lead. Matt Chartrain and Ryan Rashid added first-period tallies,
Matt Willliams added a goal at 4:02 of the second to extend the Purple Eagles’ lead to 4-0.
American International came back in the third, scoring 44 seconds into the period then cutting the lead in half at 11:34, but the Purple Eagles held on for the win.
Niagara hits the road for a best-of-three quarterfinal series against a still-to-be-determined opponent.